Story last updated at 9:52 p.m. on Saturday, June 15, 2002|
And the winner is ... Islam or the Vatican?
UGA prof's popular Islamic studies Web site up for Webby
By Joan Stroer
Published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Sunday, June 16, 2002.
Enter Alan Godlas' Islamic studies Web site and you could be sharing electronic space with devout Christians, religious agnostics, perhaps even members of al-Qaida holed up in a desert cave, surfing the Net.
A Web site on Islam developed by University of Georgia religion professor Alan Godlas is in contention for a Webby, an award presented by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences. The awards will be presented Tuesday in San Francisco.
Al-Qaida readers? ''Absolutely,'' said Godlas, a religion professor at the University of Georgia. ''Muslims have criticized my site. They've put remarks in my guest book suggesting I'm not presenting the true militant Islam. Of course I never know if it's really a Muslim.''
This year, the sixth annual Webby awards pit the Vatican Web site against Godlas' Islam site in the category of spirituality. The Peace Corps also battles the U.S. Army for Webby honors, among hundreds of other nominees for the award, dubbed the online Oscars.
The nomination is part of the wave of recognition Godlas' comprehensive site has attracted since the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
With some 7,000 sites now linked to his page, and hundreds of visitors per day, Godlas has become a source on Islam for the masses, from an American mother researching the beliefs of her new Muslim son-in-law to college professors searching for course material. A congressional committee recently contacted him to find out what Islam says about the ethics of human cloning.
''What did the head of research for this committee do? They put Islam into a search engine and they came up with my page, so they called me and asked me,'' he said. ''I'm a reference person for people.''
During a recent interview, Godlas sips tea and talks about an acceptance speech he hopes to make at the ceremony in San Francisco Tuesday. The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, whose members include Bjork, Matt Groening and Francis Ford Coppola, administers the award.
The words Godlas chooses for his speech are important because, with 30 awards to hand out in a variety of categories, including fashion, film, travel and humor, planners limit acceptance speeches to five words.
''I thought of saying 'Islam means 'Surrender to God,''' he said. That's what I thought of so far. You think it would be good?''
That definition of Islam is in the introduction to the Web site, a collection of links and publications shedding light on Islam's sacred texts, its world history and its long tradition of Islamic mysticism, his own area of expertise. There's a smattering of articles about contemporary figures from Muslim convert Cat Stevens and Osama bin Laden to Malcolm X and the hip hop artist, Everlast, also a convert. But Godlas limits most sources to primary-source material from Islamic Web sites and scholarly research materials.
Want to know about Islam and AIDS? Women and Islam?
Chances are Godlas' site has it. Overwhelmed with questions from his students about Islam, he starting running it in 1997 as a classroom aid and a way to fill what seemed to be a glaring gap in Web publishing.
''There was really nothing of good, academic, relatively objective quality out there on Islam,'' he said. ''There were a lot of people, Muslims, presenting their particular perspective. There were polemics. People trying to convert people out of Islam or convert people to Islam. I try to give both sides.''
''I say 'relatively objective,' because I believe absolute objectivity is impossible,'' he said. ''But it is more or less objective. Lots of libraries, universities, have links to it.''
When asked why he doesn't provide more links to skeptical writings, such as the fiercely critical writings on Islam by 2001 Nobel laureate for literature V.S. Naipaul, Godlas says, '' I intend to add more sections on the polemics, but I've tried to ... keep the polemics out of it. But there is certainly a place for that, especially in the 'Islam in the Modern World' section.''
Godlas entered the study of Islam indirectly, after his interest in human psychology took him from ecology to psychology to world religions. His own university has begun allowing scholarly Web sites to be reviewed as part of the tenure process, he says.
As other universities endorse online publishing, Godlas hopes more scholars will take the time to make their research available to the general public.
''The Web can be a place where the results of their research and their work can be made known fairly easily,'' he said. ''This will encourage scholars as a whole to produce good-quality material on the Web.''